Responsibility or Accountability?

Responsibility or Accountability?

The short answer for any leader working in an EOS® company is – Yes.

But these two words are not equal, and two leadership gurus I respect have pulled me both ways.

Patrick Lencioni included Accountability as layer number four in the pyramid made famous in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Seth Godin muddied the waters for me with a recent post:

Accountability is done to you. It’s done by the industrial system, by those that want to create blame.

Responsibility is done by you. It’s voluntary. You can take as much of it as you want.

Seth Godin – seths.blog.com

First, let’s look at the definition of these words (courtesy of Merriam-Webster):

Responsible (adj) – liable to be called on to answer. Able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations. [Responsibility is the corresponding noun]

Accountable (adj) – subject to giving an account: answerable. Capable of being explained: explainable. [Accountability is the corresponding noun]

merriam-webster.com

The definitions make responsible an individual thing, and accountable being imposed on us. Seth Godin’s point is that the stronger word is responsible because it triggers action inside of us and we take on responsibility for our work. That is what we all want in our kids, our team, our friends . . . right?

In working with dozens of leadership teams as an EOS Implementer®, I don’t agree — especially when we apply this to leadership teams. A culture of accountability will have a greater impact on a team and a company.

In EOS® we stick with the word Lencioni presents us because in the context of a healthy team, accountability becomes the culture of the TEAM. It’s critical to have individual ownership, but having an accountability culture within the team will help get individuals back on track when they start to fail at responsibility. We all get tripped up and fail.

Leaders, imagine how it changes your job when the team drives and supports each other to be accountable!

In the end, we want individuals to be responsible for their work — to have something happen inside of them where they are able and ready to answer to and own their work (responsible). The bigger goal is to have a culture of accountability, starting at the leadership level. The trick is to do that and still have it feel kind, supportive, loving, and trusting, not like the industrial system Godin describes.

Lead well, and look for evidence of responsibility and accountability this week — and recognize it!

WI SHRM: What to do with a talent anchor?

(note:  Whenever I speak to groups I provide cards to them in case they have a question I cannot answer during our conversation(fyi:  I call all my presentations ‘conversations’).   My commitment is that I will blog answers in 2 weeks.  This question was submitted to me after my Talent Scorecard presentation at the 2011 Wisconsin SHRM Conference in Madison.  I do not edit questions – because my commitment is to answer what is asked.)

Question:  What doyou do if your most successful sales employee and shareholder is the one costing leadership to lose money and sleep?

One of my core beliefs since working with many smaller businesses is that loyalty matters, and being slow to let someone go is okay.  As I read your question two things come to mind:

  1. How is success defined for this person?
  2. When their performance is evaluated – are they judged based on WHAT they accomplish, as well as HOW they accomplish it?

I think back to a situation where the top technology person at a company struggled for years with alcoholism that caused multiple missed work days, missed deadlines, and bristled work relationships as he relapsed repeatedly at company parties, sales events, etc.  All of this, and he stayed in place for many years.

One key habit that is critical for any organization is the CEO going down the list of their people and talking through each person in terms of what they provide, what success looks like for them, and how they are performing from a metrics as well as a culture standpoint.  The key people/key role discussion that is described in the Talent Scorecard is critical to bringing focus to this issue.  Since doing this with an internal HR person is often difficult, it should be done with a board group or an outside consultant.  The value is a safe place to process information and ask yourself some tough questions.

Finally, the book SWAY made a point about irrational decisions.  In studies of people, if they looked at a situation from a net loss perspective, they were less likely to make a rational decision.  An example is investing:  When people say to themselves – If I sell today I will lose 10% of my initial investment – then the are more likely to ride it down lower, even if the outlook is grim.  People are the same way.  When they start looking at people and saying – if we let this person go then our sales will suffer, or the knowledge they have will go away – then we keep them, even if all the other evidence points to it being a bad decision.

Anything to add based on your experience?

WISHRM2011 – How to support development plans?

(note:  Whenever I speak to groups I provide cards to them in case they have a question I cannot answer during our conversation(fyi:  I call all my presentations ‘conversations’).   My commitment is that I will blog answers in 2 weeks.  This question was submitted to me after my Talent Scorecard presentation at the 2011 Wisconsin SHRM Conference in Madison.  I do not edit questions – because my commitment is to answer what is asked.)

Question:  How do you recommend supporting momentum once development plans are established?

In our time together the Talent Scorecard revealed that development plans are not being created for employees in general and high potentials.  There are 3 foundational things that need to be established are part of building the habit of creating development plans.  The foundational keys to a great development plan are: (fyi:  I will use the term follower – if you are wondering why see this post)

  1. It comes out of a great performance conversation.  By great I mean that the leader and follower sit down and agree on a couple of areas that are job related and one goal that is from the individual.  The individual goal is something focused on long term growth or pursuing an interest.  They earn the right to have a longer term goal by performing their job well and proving they can balance daily work and taking on some other assignments.
  2. The Follower owns the plan:  The individual leaves the meeting committed to pursuing the projects, classes, conversations, or whatever else needs to happen as part of the plan.  It is truly their development plan, and understand that they need to update their leader and initiate conversations around help they might need along the way.
  3.  The leader owns the support:  Support includes quarterly “How is it going?/What can I do questions?”  If there is money for travel/time away from work they commit to providing it.  If one of the development items is involvement in a project in another area or partnering with another leader to solve a problem, support might be just keeping their ears open for opportunities.  They also must be responsive if asked for help.

Finally, What can HR do to support this?  If the three things happen above, then HR should not find itself in the role of oversight.  I would say in the first year a good check-in would be to meet with leaders to review the plans and have the “What worked?/What could we do differently? discussion.

In my experience, the most difficult part of this whole process is writing the goals.  I would hate for the leader to get frustrated and say ‘good enough’ and the follower to feel kind of adrift.  One way I have seen myself bring value to this conversation is to help people imagine different ways to address development needs that fit within the constraints of the situation (time, budget, etc).  Remember that 90% of learning happens outside of a class, so often formal education is the easy and least effective way to address a need. 

I think HR could provide lots of value by telling the leaders to get close in their conversation, then feel free to send people to us to help refine the plan prior to having the leader do a final sign-off.  For some leaders, you might even find yourself spending a little time with them before the performance conversation helping them identify some recommended areas to focus on.  Again, this fits into the partner role HR should be playing without putting us in an oversight/ownership role.

I know there are some HR professionals reading this, so I welcome any other comments.